Starting school involves excitement and change. It can also be a tricky time for parents and special needs children.
The implementation of simple strategies can minimise the stress of transition and hopefully enable an enjoyable and rewarding experience for both you and your child. Of course, each child is unique and learns and adapts in different ways. My own daughter Eleanor is in a wheel chair and requires additional help in learning. As a result the transition to school for her has an extra layer of considerations even before she begins. As a special needs mum these are my tips to assist your own little person adjust more easily.
Become acquainted with the school and its surroundings
Attend transition or orientation days and ask permission to take photos. I made an album on Eleanor’s IPad so that she could look through the photos allowing her to visually become comfortable with her teacher and the school. Sticking photos on the wall could also help a child to become familiar with their future learning environment. Use whichever method will work best for your child.
Provide as much information as possible
If you have developed an individual learning plan include a copy in your child’s bag just in case. Have meetings with all the relevant stakeholders before school starts and make sure they understand your child’s needs. Do not be afraid to speak up, your special need child needs you to communicate exactly what they need. Always be confident that you know your child better than anyone!
Don't go over the top with school items and uniforms
Buy what is manageable so not to overwhelm your child before school starts. Ease them into the idea of change. Encouraging the uniform can promote independence and excitement. I always aim to keep Eleanor involved in school preparations giving her choice and allowing her to become aware of the changes ahead.
Practice keywords for communication
Eleanor is limited in her communication but can understand everything. Teaching and practicing key words for everyday situations helps Eleanor feel independent and in control and gives me some peace of mind that she can communicate her needs. Knowing important words allows the child to feel safe and secure in that she can tell a teacher and her classmates what she wants to.
Make a list and be organised
I love lists and keeping a check of items to be included in Eleanor’s school bag helps me to remember everything she needs. This basic list removes pressure from me and keeps Eleanor relaxed knowing I won’t forget what she needs. Being organised takes stress away from your child. Make sure to also adequately label everything, which minimises losses and helps your child know what is theirs.
Create a social book for the teachers and students
A book of photos and text about Eleanor’s disability helps teachers and students to understand the best way to communicate with and include Eleanor. This book helps both her and those around her. You may also wish to have a communication book that allows for the teacher to write any questions or notes for me so I can answer them. This streamlines communication between parents and the classroom and keeps the channel of communication open, which is crucial for smooth transition. Some schools prefer email, ask your teacher what is their preferred method of communication, don’t leave the ability to have open dialogue to chance!
Establish a routine early on
What will the morning routine include? Write it out, from getting dressed, brushing teeth, packing the school bag and getting to school – detail it all. This routine will assist your child in understanding what is expected and what is happening. Writing out the routine and talking about it positively helps your child to understand that starting school is something to look forward to. The routine will also bring a familiar predictability to your mornings and allow your child to feel more in control what changes are happening.
Use the holidays to further prepare
You have approximately 8 weeks until school begins! Use this time to prepare your child as much as possible. Talk about the school and what activities they will get to try and who they will meet. You might even like to do a practice school run. If you have considerations for access such as needing to know where to park or where the most accessible parking this is best not done on the first day! Keeping yourself as stress free as possible is important, as your child will absolutely buy into your energy. A stressed mummy will not help a special needs child transition easily!
Use the resources available to you via the school
A regular visit from an occupational therapist can assist in building independence. These insights also help teachers to understand the best way to include and teach your child. A speech therapist can assist in adapting communication, types of learning and building speech. This develops confidence and independence. Schools can offer many resources to special needs children, be prepared to be your child’s advocate to ensure they access everything available to them!
Starting school is the beginning of personal independence and learning. It is an exciting time for your child and for you. It can also be daunting and implementing simple steps can certainly make this a less stressful time. Learning ways to manage those ‘extra things’ that a special needs child requires can be done more easily with a bit of planning. Check in with the teacher and school regularly to continually assess that your child is receiving the help they need. Never be afraid to ask if there is anything else they would benefit from – be involved in everything you can be! I hope your little one starts school happily! Good luck!